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American critic Raymond Leslie Williams has convincingly argued that a desire to be modern is a central characteristic of the 20th century Latin American novel. Williams's argument also coincides with Octavio Paz's assertion that modernity has been a topic of interest to Latin American intellectuals since the 19th century. A glimpse of the terminology used by authors and critics to name various Latin American movements over the past 125 years—modernismo, posmodernismo, avant-garde, modern novel, and postmodern fiction—gives us a sense of the persistent desire of Latin American authors to engage in a dialogue on Latin American subjects’ positions within modernity. Since the 1990s, a corpus of works has emerged in Latin America that suggests that it is already possible to speak of the environmental novel as an authentic subgenre of Latin American fiction. The development of the Latin American environmental novel can be understood as a further manifestation of the historical desire of Latin American intellectuals to engage with the concept of modernity. This new subgenre arises in the context of an order of global neocolonialism in which the authors elaborate counter-discourses to the economic models of modernity that have frequently been imposed by wealthy nations. In the present essay, I offer readings of two environmental novels by Chilean novelist Luis Sepúlveda—Un viejo que leía novelas de amor (1989) and Mundo del fin del mundo (1989)—as examples of the Latin American environmental novel’s engagement with the concept of modernity. Specifically, I analyze how Sepúlveda’s novels undermine the Eurocentric notion of modernity proffered by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in his 1845 treatise Civilización y barbarie o vida de Juan Facundo Quiroga. Ultimately, I argue that Sepúlveda’s ironic inversion of Sarmiento’s concept of civilization and barbarism can be understood as a decolonial gesture.

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